A letter to the future students of NAU
By: Kevin Bertram, Editor-In-Chief of The Lumberjack
Welcome to college. In case you were wondering, you’ve just arrived. In a smaller sense, in Flagstaff and at NAU. In the larger picture, at the juncture of the rest of your lives.
I am aware the above paragraph probably somewhat resembles a much abridged version of the speech given by the valedictorian at your high school graduation, both in its cliched optimism and overemphasis on the importance of the present. After all, maybe you harbored similar sentiments after escaping middle school, only to be disappointed when you realized that few things actually changed.
This time around, however, things do actually change. It’s here that you get a clean slate: it’s here that you get to start things over and begin again.
At this point, you might think that I’m under the impression that this year’s incoming freshman class consists of repentful convicts or something. I’m not. What I am saying is that you need to be prepared for the emotional hardship of being seperated from your family and friends.
Despite being heavily involved in several organizations, clubs and classes, I couldn’t wait to leave high school behind. My family was irksome; some of my classes tedious and unchallenging. I knew what I wanted to do with my life from then-on-out: I wanted to be a high school history teacher. My college education was, at best, a formality. At worst, it seemed like a roadblock to a future I was so sure of.
Almost four years later, I am nearing the end of my time here at NAU. And, in many ways, I am torn. Half the time I think about it, I’d do everything the same over again. And the other half of the time, I think about how I would have done everything differently.
And, sometimes, I think that’s the way NAU would think about itself if it had the capacity to, well, think.
My freshman year, my father helped me move into Cowden Hall. I had no job and relatively easy classes, between which I spent my time hanging out with some friends from high school.
I’d like to say that I originally joined The Lumberjack because I had an interest in the paper. In fact, that is what I tell people, and it’s partially true: I had been an opinion columnist for my high school paper, and I had some experience with writing. The other side of the coin that I don’t often, um, recollect, is that I was bored and broke, and I was looking to fill my time and my wallet.
A bit of a spoiler: like most college students, I found it easy to fill the former and hard to make the latter go where I needed it to.
I attended a job fair, hoping to find out more about the student newspaper. I was in luck: I found that The Lumberjack had a booth in the du Bois ballroom. I was also unfortunate, because the booth was abandoned.
I visited the newspaper office, located in the downstairs of the School of Communication. My persistance paid off. The one person in the office was the new News Editor, and — desperate to augment his staff with living, breathing reporters — hired me, despite my reluctance to write things objectively and without bias.
It was a turn of events that changed my life. Throughout the subsequent semesters, I worked my way up through the paper’s heirarchy. I became so enamored with reporting that I changed my major after the first semester of my freshman year. For those of you keeping track at home, this means that I dropped the idea of being an educator — formerly, what I wanted to do with my life — after less than six months of being in Flagstaff.
Today, I am the editor-in-chief of the paper, and I hope to be a professional journalist when I graduate. And, no, most don’t use the words “hope” and “professional journalist” together. I do, however.
Sometimes, I think about how things would have worked out if I had given up after failing to find the newspaper at that first job fair. I probably would not be a journalism major, and I most certainly would not be writing this column right now. And while leaving behind my dreams of being a teacher was difficult, it was made easier by me finding something that I liked even more. Be prepared to handle change and adapt to the future. In some form or another, college will throw you a curveball — in fact, multiple curveballs. You may know what you want to do for the rest of your life right now, and that may not change when you graduate from here. But, you need to be prepared for it to change, along with the rest of your life.
I’m a strong believer that no one is perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be the smartest, strongest or best-qualified person in the room. I know those who interview me for jobs after college will see that. But, what I take pride in is my work ethic. No one ever regretted working hard for something that was worthwhile. The important thing about hard work, however, is also knowing when to apply the brakes. Those who know me will understandably and justifiably roll their eyes at the idea of me expressing this idea, but going 110 percent at everything, all the time, is a recipie for disaster. Find a happy medium that works for you.
Grades are not everything in college. Grad schools and employers will look at your entire body of work over the course of your time at NAU. Seek out employment related to your major, and inquire with your professors regularly about internships. This applies to certain majors more than others, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a major that doesn’t have such opportunities available to students.
Finally, take some time to familiarize yourself with the city and the campus. I was one of those freshman who rarely ventured far from a pre-set radius that surrounded my dorm, the Union and my classes. If I could do it again, I would have explored the city from the outset. At the very least, I would have been able to eat Fratelli’s pizza from an earlier point. Try some local restaurants — go to the First Friday artwalk downtown. Meet some new people and, maybe, make some new friends.
The campus has changed so much since I arrived here. Buildings have fallen, only to have new ones erected in their place. Old friends have moved on, and new ones have arrived, much like you have. No doubt, in your time here, you will see major physical and psycohological changes to the campus.
The university, in many ways, has been forced by reduced state funding to move to more of a privatized model. What consequences this has are yet seen, but I believe what it will yield is something akin to what has been happening at larger universities across the nation: the commodification of the college education. Less experienced professors will greet you in the classroom, and cloudy job prospects will meet you outside of it.
You can and must actively work throughout your time here to make the experience worth it. No one will — or can — do that for you.
You must be prepared to actively shape your future. How do you plan to do that?